The first trailer for Todd Phillips' Joker gave viewers a glimpse into how its protagonist will laugh his way into becoming the Clown Prince of Crime. The film's tone is decidedly muted, however, and the premise is clearly unbeholden to any existing continuity for The Joker. Outside of the Gotham City, Thomas Wayne and Arkham Asylum, there's almost nothing related to Batman being shown in previews besides The Joker himself. While this may have just been a way to keep certain things under wraps, Phillips has now reinforced the film's divorce from any particular comic book story. This may upset some fans, but it may also lead to the most original take on The Joker on screen.
All New, All Different
In an interview with Empire, Phillips stated the production followed nothing in particular from the comics. The focus instead is on how an ordinary guy could become someone as demented as The Joker. This far more grounded approach has some superficial similarities (if only in tone) with The Joker in The Dark Knight and The Killing Joke, but for the most part will seemingly stand on its own, which means there's a lot of questions generated by this choice, like the villain's relationship to Batman.
Of course, Phillips may be attempting to mislead audiences with this interview, hiding the final product's potentially deep connections to some piece of source material. It's totally possible the film might surprise audiences with its accuracy, but for now let's take him at his word, as this decidedly new take may allow the story to go in directions never taken before with the character.
There are definitely expectations when it comes to comic book movies, especially ones involving such icons as The Joker, in terms of how characters are portrayed. There's almost always something of a question as to what storylines and arcs will be used as inspiration. Certain films, such as Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, automatically announce what stories they are based on with their titles. On the other hand, films like The Dark Knight aren't marketed as an adaptation of any stories directly, but take clear inspiration from other properties.
By immediately denying any hard inspiration from any specific storylines, Joker saves itself from potentially being received as a poor adaptation of a beloved original. This also means that the film's version of The Joker can stand more on its own and avoid comparisons with how the character acted in other stories. In doing so, the film can give a never-before-seen look at the world of Gotham City before the rise of The Joker and Batman.
Heath Ledger's portrayal of The Joker in The Dark Knight garnered the deceased actor several posthumous accolades, while informing the general public's perception of the character to this day. Although there was some doubt about his ability to play the character before the movie released, the quality of Ledger's performance quickly won over many doubters. The version in Joker has a similar uphill battle, but could also win over audiences with its quality.
However, the similarities to Ledger's Joker may be a double-edged sword. The grounded, arguably "Oscar Bait" nature of Joker, may also make it compare unfavorably if Joaquin Phoenix's performance isn't stellar. Having Heath Ledger as a predecessor certainly did no favors for Jared Leto's version of The Joker in Suicide Squad. However, perhaps by having Leto's negatively-received version preceding it, Phoenix's Joker will have a better chance of being well-received.
The film so far carries a vibe reminiscent of crime movies from the 1970s, which makes sense given the involvement of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro. This heavy focus on being a crime drama is incidentally similar to both the gangster stories of Golden Age Batman comics, but also the return to that focus during Batman comics in the 1970s. Thus, Joker may end up being a completely original version of The Joker and the Batman mythos in general, while still being everything that fans truly love about both.
Directed by Todd Phillips, Joker stars Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Bill Camp, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Glenn Fleshler, Douglas Hodge, Marc Maron, Josh Pais and Shea Whigham. The film arrives in theaters Oct. 4.